The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman

by: Ernest J. Gaines

Book 3: The Plantation

Summary Book 3: The Plantation

Analysis

Jane's discussion of the social environment of the Samson plantation continues in this chapter, after her brief interlude on Huey Long, the one time governor of Louisiana. Jane then runs through a series of schoolteachers who worked on the plantation. None of them fit into the unique rural culture, however. Finally Jane arrives at Mary Agnes LeFarbre who, with Tee Bob Samson, is the major character in this and the next section.

In this section, Tee Bob falls in love with Mary Agnes. Mary Agnes's Creole background provides an important commentary upon skin tone within the black community. Mary Agnes comes to Samson because she wants to amend for her family's slave owning past. Basically, she feels that by being with darker- skinned people, she can correct her family's history. Her family, and the Creole culture, detest dark-skinned blacks such that they try to lynch two intruders to their party. Although the white world considers the Creoles black, the Creoles have their own high racist standards. Mary Agnes appears to be separate from Creole racism since she comes to Samson, but actually her desires are just as racist as theirs. Mary Agnes judges people based upon their skin color just as the whites and the Creoles do. Actually, Mary Agnes's desire for blackness is ironic, since soon a white man will fall in love with her. In light of Mary Agnes's desire to be with darker people, it seems highly unlikely that she would want to be with Tee Bob. The complex racism within Mary Agnes herself helps to suggest the ridiculousness anything based on race.

Tee Bob finds himself pulled to Mary Agnes because of her beauty, despite the commute from Baton Rouge, Jane's discouragement, and Mary Agnes's emotional distance. As long as Tee Bob does not announce his love, his attentions to Mary Agnes cause no difficulties. The horse motif reappears again when Tee Bob courts Mary Agnes from his higher position on a horse. She walks beside him, and they talk, but their conversations do not attract attention because it is obvious that they are not walking side by side. Although Tee Bob appears to be maintaining the social hierarchy, in other ways he does not. He tells Mary to call him "Robert," a name that is too casual and lacks the title with which black people are supposed to refer to whites. The way that he wants to be called suggests that he views Mary as an equal, but on another level he still maintains himself in the higher racial class. Although courting Mary, his engagement with Judy Major is still going forward. To some extent, Tee Bob's exploration of a relationship with Mary Agnes initially still follows in the steps of how society decrees that it must be.

With Tee Bob's confession to Jimmy Caya, however, Tee Bob raises his relationship to another level. He is not supposed to love Mary as a true woman but rather only as an object for lust. Tee Bob, as Jimmy reminds him, is a white man, whereas Mary Agnes is a "nigger," which means that she is not really even human. Tee Bob's violent reaction to Jimmy's statement reinforces the difference of his opinion from Jimmy's as well as from Tee Bob's father, who once slept with black women as Jimmy recommends that Tee Bob does. Tee Bob still belongs to the white landowner class, but his ideas long to step away from their restrictions.

The narrative flow changes in this chapter, especially in that Jane does not see all of the events that she recounts. Her description of Mary Agnes and Tee Bob's relationship takes place through what she has heard from other people. She was not present for the conversation between Jimmy and Tee Bob, for example, nor was she there when Tee Bob went into the schoolhouse. With this section, Jane becomes a narrative editor of her own by pasting together bits and pieces that she heard in order to tell the story of Tee Bob and Mary Agnes.